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What evidence is there for prehistoric interpersonal violence in the archaeological record?

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Introduction

What evidence is there for prehistoric interpersonal violence in the archaeological record? Up until fairly recently a romantic, peaceful image was painted of prehistoric societies. However, new archaeological discoveries, and reassessments of old ones have caused this theory to diminish. Numerous bodies (articulated and dis-articulated) have been uncovered which show evidence of lethal and healed injuries. These injuries can have only been gained during a conflict of some kind. An example of these injuries comes from Tormorton in the Cotswolds, dating back to about 1000 BC. In 1968 four skeletons were found in a field, whilst a gas pipeline was being dug. Three skeletons were found and one skull. Two of the skeletons, both males, showed evidence of both having met a particularly unpleasant end. One of the men had been stabbed with a spear in both sides of his pelvis and the other had been stabbed in the spinal cord and in the pelvis also. The spearhead was still lodged in the second man's back. ...read more.

Middle

Rock art (mainly from the south cost of Spain) is the key piece of evidence used to suggest that there were indeed warriors. At Cueva del Roure a painting shows four archers confronting three. At El Molino de las Fuentas 15 archers are shown confronting 20 on another side. Whilst rock art is incredibly hard to interpret, it is plain to see that this must represent battles. There is, however, some confusion over the date of the paintings. Some believe they are Mesolithic, others think Neolithic. The presence of weapons in the archaeological record substantiates the theory of violence and conflict being fairly widespread during the prehistoric period. Two bodies dating back to the late Palaeolithic have been found in Italy. One, from Sicily, was a woman with a flint point in her pelvis. The other, from mainland Italy, was the body of a child, with a flint point in its backbone. It isn't certain whether the points are spear tips or arrowheads. ...read more.

Conclusion

While this could be true, exaggerations on the part of the Roman scribe would not be uncommon. However, other, more remote, sources can be used as documentation of violence in prehistory. The most prominent of such proto-histories is Homer's Illiad. This Greek poet's detailed account of an attack on the city of Troy provides archaeologists with a small insight into the style of fighting employed by prehistoric warriors. From the poem they have gained the understanding that trained warriors would have fought against each other, and that there was also a strong sense of territory and boundaries, perhaps even more so then, than now. In conclusion, it would seem that there is a lot of evidence to indicate that warfare dates back a lot further than people would sometimes be lead to believe. Weapons have been found, paintings of warriors discovered, skeletons bearing terrible wounds unearthed and proto-histories providing documentation of prehistoric battles studied. However, no one can ever be certain as to what prehistoric warfare was truly like, but it is fairly certain that prehistory was not as peaceful as it was once portrayed. November 2003 Katie Makin ...read more.

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